Technology on Parade

The Quiet Earth scene

Not long ago, Childhood Obesity News looked at the calorie counter and energy expenditure tracker MyFitnessPal. Many technological aids are available to consumers for their weight-loss needs, and some of these inventions have capabilities that border on the science-fictional.

An instrument called the TellSpec laser scanner initially market-positioned itself as “for diabetes, weight loss, pre-diabetes, and obesity.” Still in the testing phase and not yet available commercially, it is also of great interest to other populations, including those with irritable bowel syndrome and hard-to-identify food sensitivities and allergies.

Billed as a “food sensor,” the device is technically a raman spectrometer (no relation to the noodles eaten by college students). It emits a laser beam, counts the photons that bounce back, and evaluates an object’s chemical composition. It’s really that simple, and that fantastically outlandish.

The scanner is assisted by the user’s smartphone and, up in the cloud, a database stuffed with algorithms. Together, they reveal what is actually in the substance presented as food. The user gets a read-out of the ingredients in all their glorious complexity—carbohydrates, proteins, fats, calories, tartarzine—it’s all there.

In fact, the device may tell more about what is inside a product than the manufacturer might want a consumer to know. A consumer can compare the food package’s list of ingredients with the scanner’s output and say, “Wait, what?” For instance, if gluten is detected, the user can look it up in the knowledge base known as the TellSpecopedia. Even though the device is not yet on the market, the company altruistically shares this information with anyone who cares to see it, online, now. Go ahead, try it, and learn that although almond oil can help the liver and the heart, it provokes an allergic reaction in some humans.

Where’s the Beef?

A study with what might be described as a meta-focus was featured in the journal Childhood Obesity last year. Apparently, its purpose was to scold. Writer Aditi Pai described the argument it made:

Exercise and nutrition smartphone apps for children do not use the top recommended behaviors and strategies that were developed to prevent pediatric obesity…

…93 percent of the apps complied with the recommended behaviors in the guidelines, only 20 percent had the recommended strategies…

These recommendations came from a report published in the journal Pediatrics in 2007.

It may be churlish and immature, but the very first retort that comes to mind is, “Yes, and look how fabulously well those recommendations have been working out so far.” The numbers and the percentages of obese kids go up and up. The news has been so bad for so long, we are numb to it. When an institution floats the idea that 2007’s recommendations were graven in stone, we are ready to believe it.

In the first area of concern, that of recommended behaviors, it’s hard to even understand the study authors’ disgruntlement. After all, 93 percent is a pretty high rate of compliance anywhere. The behaviors include eating five fruits and/or vegetables per day, exercising for an hour a day, limiting TV to two hours, and limiting sugar-sweetened beverages. As for the recommended strategies—which only 20 percent of the tested applications adhered to—they include:

…setting goals, providing positive reinforcement, telling kids to self-monitor their efforts, and highlighting success and partial-success…

By the way, even the single most popular strategy (self-monitoring) was used by only 16 percent of the tested apps.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “We Took The Laser Scanner That Tells You What’s In Your Food Out For A Spin, 01/16/14
Source: “Study finds child obesity prevention apps don’t use recommended behaviors, strategies, 04/04/14
Image by Thoth God of Knowledge


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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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